Friday, 4 August 2017

Chartism in Wales - the Newport rising

Much has been written over the years about the rise of Chartism in Wales, from it's birth in Carmarthen in 1836 to the 'massacre' at Newport in 1839 and beyond. It's not my intention to write an indepth history of events here, but I will provide a few details of the events of the 3rd and 4th of November 1839.

The Welsh Chartists had been holding secret meetings in the pits and iron works of south east Wales for weeks in advance of their march to Newport. Demonstrators numbering close to 10,000 were assembled in three separate locations and organised into marching columns. The main column from the west of Newport was led by John Frost, a second column from Blackwood was led by Zephaniah Williams and a third column from Pontypool was led by William Jones. The plan was for the columns to march overnight and meet at the Welsh Oak public house in Rogerstone on the Sunday morning before making their way into the centre of Newport. Poor organisation and foul weather put a dent in the plans with many marchers losing interest in the cold and wet of Saturday night. In fact Jones' Pontypool party didn't even arrive at the Welsh Oak at all.

Without doubt the Chartists believed their demonstration would take the authorities by surprise, but in fact the marchers were expected, preparations had been made and a reception committee in the guise of 60 soldiers from the 45th Regiment of Foot and some 500 Special Constables had been gathered.

Of the original 10,000 protesters only around half actually made it to Newport. A rumour that a number of Chartist sympathisers were being held prisoner in the Westgate Hotel inflamed the mob who marched down Stow Hill shouting slogans and waving home made pikes and cudgels. 32 of the soldiers were hiding in the Westgate and as the mob approached they were ordered to open fire: some 22 of the protesters were killed and another 50 or so wounded. The dead were buried at St Woolos Cathedral, where this plaque commemorates the event:

There is also a small artistic tribute to the Chartists within the Cathedral grounds, a pair of ceramic working man's hobnail boots, by Ned Heywood, which I think is perfectly fitting under the circumstances.